Town Council Approves Nov. 5 as Date for Referendum on Middle/High School Project

Marcie Moline, chairperson of the Winthrop Is Worth It committee.

Marcie Moline, chairperson of the Winthrop Is Worth It committee.

Suffice to say that Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 will be an important day in determining the future course of Winthrop.

For in addition to selecting a council president in the town election, Winthrop voters will also decide  whether to fund the town’s share of the $80 million middle school/high school project. The town’s estimated share of that project is $40 million.

With the placement of the question on the ballot needing a two-thirds majority vote, Council President Peter Gill cast the sixth and deciding vote to hold the debt exclusion referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The others dates considered were Dec. 10 when a special election for the U.S. Congressional seat will be held and a date in January, 2014 when the question would have stood alone on the ballot.

The Council debated the issue following remarks earlier in the meeting by Marcie Moline, chairperson of Winthrop Is Worth It. Moline said the committee’s purpose “is the positive outcome of passing a debt exclusion to fund the construction of a new and combined middle/high school.

“Our mission is to inform the public about the benefits of building a new middle/high school for our students and the entire community,” said Moline, who advocated on behalf of her committee for the Nov. 5 date for the ballot question.

The Council’s discussion began with Councilor-at-Large Philip Boncore seeking to amend a motion and place the school referendum on Nov. 5. Boncore’s amended motion carried by a 5-3 margin. Gill joined Councilors Nicholas DelVento and Craig Mael in voting against the amendment.

Councilor-at-Large Larry Powers spoke in favor of the Nov. 5 date, stressing that he wanted as large a turnout as possible for such an important ballot question.

“I believe that the November vote seems to make the most sense,” said Powers. “The Dec. 10 date is right in between two major holidays [Thanksgiving and Christmas] and people have a thousand other things on their mind at that time of the year. I think that in January you run into the issue of No. 1 of weather and a lot of people, especially the elderly, are gone, they’re off to Florida for the winter, so you not going to get their vote.”

Council Vice President Paul Varone agreed with Powers, citing statistics from past elections that voters turn out for town elections in larger numbers than for special elections.

DelVento voiced his support for a Dec. 10 election for the schools project.

“I really think it needs to stand alone on its own,” said DelVento. “There is so much going to be happening in November.”

DelVento added that those who are passionate about the issue will be ready to vote in November but he was concerned “the average person” might not have all the information needed to vote in the election.

Councilor Craig Mael, who said he has attended nearly all of the School Building Assistance Committee (SBAC) meetings, felt that the ballot question should have its own, exclusive election day.

“If it’s important, they’ll come [out and vote],” said Mael. “This is a major, monumental vote for the town and there is a cost that comes along with it and I personally think this should stand alone.”

In his initial remarks on the issue, Gill said he did a lot of research and it revealed that the three debt exclusions that were passed in Winthrop in the last 10 years “all passed in special elections.”

Gill, who favors the construction of a new middle/high school and is a candidate for re-election, said a November election might not be the most advantageous for passing the referendum.

“This election is so important – I don’t think there’s any question which way we want it to go. The timing of this election is so important, not just to the children, not just to the parents, but the people of every age. It’s going to affect the overall lifestyle and overall life feeling of this community.”

But after conceding that November 5 was not the best choice, Gill ultimately cast the deciding vote with Councillors Larry Powers, Russell Sanford, Linda Calla, Philip Boncore, and Paul Varone also supporting the first Tuesday in November for the date of the ballot question. Councillors DelVento and Mael voted against the November date. Councilor James Letterie was not present at the meeting but a communication from him indicated that he favored a Dec. 10 election.

“I want this school building project to pass and I felt Nov. 5 was the best chance for it to pass,” said Gill. “When I saw the passion of the Winthrop Is Worth It Committee, I felt given their passion and their belief that they could get it done, I didn’t want to stifle that passion. I also did not want to have this matter delayed any longer.”

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